After only being back in the country long enough to move house and cool my heels for a day or two after hiking the Camino trail, this week has seen me pack my worldly belongings i.e. my bike and head off on another adventure with Wattbike to attend the annual Sufferfest camp based out of the UCI world cycling centre in Aigle, Switzerland.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) being a hub for the development of young athletes from developing countries across the world is just a super special place. Each year they scout and take on around 100 athletes and provide them with all of the tools and financial support they need to become world class athletes in the three Olympic disciplines – track, road and BMX. It’s an incredible programme that is so needed to ensure that talent from all around the world, has the chance to shine. As well as in-house facilities the UCI works closely with National Federations around the world to both keep an eye on emerging talent and also to provide essential funding and equipment, such as bikes, to athletes that otherwise wouldn’t have one of their own. So far, through their Bikes for the World programme they have provided more than 250 new bikes to promising athletes from National Federations in Egypt, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Cuba, Bolivia, Afghanistan, Albania and Moldova to name just a few.
Back to the UCI though, our beloved Victoria Pendelton is a UCI alumna and has definitely earned her spot on the Hall of Fame thanks to her gold medals at European, World and Olympic level.
I feel super privileged to be spending time training at the UCI world cycling centre but the main highlight for me so far, is the track. It’s the first time I’ve ever gotten up close and personal with one and we made the mistake of seeing it for the first time, from above. Looking down it looks hella steep and watching some of cycling’s current and future stars race around at speeds of 70+ km/h definitely got the nerves going. I have also never been on a fixed gear bike, especially one with no brakes! With only about 30 seconds to practice before we went out on the track, my heart was firmly in my mouth. We started off slowly on the flat and then made our way up the bank to practice sticking to the racing line. Although we were all white knuckling it the whole way through, actually getting up on the bank and riding around doesn’t feel as perilous as I thought it might. Trying to ride relatively fast, in a group, on fixies with no brakes however, was wholly terrifying. Despite my lack of innate pacing I much prefer being out on the front, it’s tiring but I only have to focus on where I’m going and not the rest of the peloton – to an extent, obviously you always have to be aware when riding in a group.
We practiced relay, completing two laps at the front before sticking our elbow out, rising up the bank and dropping to the back of the chain before stepping on the gas again to lock back onto the wheel in front. Even though we were advised to ‘not think, just do’ it was epically exhausting, both mentally and physically. For the finale, we were led out by one of the UCI’s incredible track coaches, Sylvano and we practiced going right up to the white line (that’s the top, for those not yet in the know) and then pushing down into a 200m sprint. I can’t wait to try again and actually push the speed as far as I can manage, hopefully it will all feel a little more familiar when we next get out there.
After a slightly broken sleep, probably in part due to all the adrenaline that had been coursing through my veins yesterday and despite the worlds comfiest bed thanks to the Grand Hotel des Bains de Lavey, it’s back to the UCI this afternoon for my first foray into cyclocross. Due to the endless rain and thunderstorms this morning I know things are going to get real, real quick.
So, a super quick roundup of my thoughts on Day 1 at Sufcamp – Great teammates and coaches and you can’t fail to be motivated and inspired after spending even just a few hours at the UCI so I’m excited to get back home and crack on with my training in the lush Hertfordshire countryside.
Hands up who’s ridden on a track? What are your thoughts?